What Needs Reform In Adoption? Everything!

This month’s Grown In My Heart blog carnival asks the question, “What do you think needs reform in adoption?” I could fill whole stadiums with answers to that one, but I think everything that concerns me boils down to one word: TRANSPARENCY, or lack thereof.
Take, for example:
  • Domestic and international adoption scandals: children targeted for adoption, mothers coerced into surrendering, adoptive parents duped into a false sense of security about the adoption process
  • Situations like Haiti, where crises are used to exploit children and families
  • Sealed adoption records, the myth of birth parent “privacy”, the discrimination faced by adult adoptees and their mothers, and the facade of compromise legislation
  • The lure of open adoption, which is rarely enforcable by the birth mother
  • “Crisis pregnancy centers” which are often fronts for adoption mills
  • Misinformation about the long-term effects of adoption, especially for transracial and transcultural adoptees
  • The general public’s lack of understanding about adoption, which is promulgated by the adoption industry so clandestine and questionable practices can continue. Part of this is driven by media bias in adoption reporting, which leads me into…
  • GET ADOPTION OFF TELEVISION. I have to wonder why there isn’t legal protection for minors exploited on television (think Jon & Kate or Balloon Boy). I think about these kids whose adoption stories are being told on TV (e.g. Teen Mom, 16 And Pregnant) before they even have a chance to know for themselves. Can you imagine how devastating that will be for them? It’s one thing to have consenting adults on these shows but something far different when we’re talking about babies and children. And even when it’s consenting adults, the information is almost always skewed. Let’s face it, reality shows and made-for-TV movies are not solid journalism, but most people base their ideas about adoption from them.
If adoption were transparent, if the procedures were scrutinized, I think there would be far less (although not zero) corruption. People will always find a way to game the system, but transparency and repercussions make it harder. Ratifying the Hague Convention would be one step. Restoring original birth certificate access to adult adoptees AND birth mothers would be another. We need more education for prospective adopters. We need independent and transparent regulation of adoption agencies. We need to get rid of private adoptions that too easily fall into the gray-market or black-market category. We need to eliminate pork-barrel legislation that turns original birth certificate access into a windfall for politicians and their well-connected cronies. We need to distinguish between infant adoption and foster-care adoption. We need to support mothers and families. We need to turn adoption from a boutique industry into a system in which kids who need help will get it.
But what we most need to do is take the profit margin out of adoption. If there is no money to be made, profiteering will decrease. I don’t anticipate this will happen anytime soon. Adoption is big business, with the funds and resources to hire lobbyists to maintain the bottom line. What we, as individuals, can do is demand transparency of adoption agencies and practitioners, and of our elected officials. We can also continue making scandals public, so that those who do game the system are caught. And we can educate the general public about adoption, including its flaws and misconceptions.
Adoption should be a last resort. We should strive to support children: with their parents where possible, with extended family where not, via domestic adoption in their country of origin and via international adoption only as a last resort. Yes, that means less adoptable children, but this isn’t about finding a child for everyone who wants one. The adoption industry sets very unrealistic expectations while continuing to sweep necessary reform under the rug. Let’s return adoption to its roots–finding homes for children in need–and do away with the corruption that currently defines it.

More Concern About Haiti Adoptions

There is growing concern about the fast-tracking of Haitian adoptions. Read on for some excellent blogs on the subject.
I’ve seen a lot of media coverage about Haitian orphans being “saved” or “rescued” by flying them to foreign countries for adoption. But “orphan” doesn’t necessarily mean the child has no living relatives. In many countries, parents place their children in orphanages temporarily until they can get back on their feet. Even if their parents are dead, these so-called “orphans” may have siblings, extended family, or others who can care for them. In a disaster like Haiti’s, we should be focusing on helping the country recover, not focusing on the wants of prospective adopters.
Okay, here it comes… the knee-jerk reaction that those of us advocating caution would rather see these kids starve and die on the streets. On the contrary, we want these kids cared for, kept in their own families where possible, domestically adopted where not, and internationally adopted only as a last resort. And yes, that means less adoptable children, and that’s just too bad. If you are so eager for a child, there are umpteen kids in the American foster system. They’re not cute “orphans”, but they do need help. If you’re really that interested in helping a child, that shouldn’t make a difference. But swooping down on Haiti like vultures is not going to help those kids.
There is also the question of what the “pipeline” is. Those American adoptions that were already “in the pipeline” are being fast-tracked. But what does that mean, exactly? It could simply mean those prospective adopters have passed the preliminary stages. They may not have passed home study or the other qualifications of being adoptive parents. And with the records in Haiti a shambles and at least one judge dead, it’s hard to know which children have actually been approved for adoption. Shouldn’t we take those tens of thousands of dollars a single adoption costs to help the people of Haiti as a whole? Wouldn’t that help more children in the long run?
Another thing that concerns me is the possibility that sweeping these kids into adoption’s net may result in increased “disruptions” down the line. A disruption is a nice name for returning an adoptee… a failed adoption. But what expectations does the adoption mill set for prospective adopters? It’s the glossy brochure, the “adopt and your life is complete” mantra. Reality is much harder for these children. You can’t take a child who is suffering from trauma and the loss of loved ones, bring them to America, plunk them down in front of McDonald’s and Nickelodeon and expect that they will grow up with no difficulties. I am concerned that some of these prospective adopters are so relieved at having their wishes finally granted that they will overlook the needs of the child. When that child begins to suffer from PTSD, will they blame the child for not fitting in? For being an “angry adoptee”? Will these adoptees be sentenced to quack therapies or drugged into behaving? Will they be returned to a country they no longer know, or shuffled off to yet another “forever” family?
In the words of Buffalo Springfield…
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…
It’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down.

Find My Family: Does Reality TV Create Assumptions About Adoption Search?

After I posted about Rose’s situation, I was inundated with replies that she should contact Find My Family. While I know these suggestions were made out of the goodness of people’s hearts, I’m wondering if the existence of shows like this make people think that all you need to do is contact reality TV and they will magically solve your adoption search for you.
My question is partially prompted by the fact that I’ve seen it now. And I’ll admit, Find My Family does show the emotions behind search and reunion–but there are too many things I don’t think it addresses. What about those who can’ t complete their searches? What about those left behind by compromise legislation? What about discrimination against adoptees and birth mothers and fathers? (I should point out that I normally find reality TV distasteful, doubly so when it’s on a topic I find triggering.)
Because the thing is, Rose HAS contacted Find My Family. They elected not to take on her case. Possibly because it’s too hard–they may not want to expend resources on a search they don’t think they can solve (and therefore film the happy ending). Possibly because Rose is already a member of the forum who is doing Find My Family’s legwork (a forum that, again, is not being compensated or even acknowledged as a resource–hello, ABC, I’m talking to you!). Possibly because ABC is concerned about legal liability given the gray/black market nature of Rose’s case. Or possibly because they’ve simply filled up for the year and don’t have room to take on more cases. Who knows? The point is, reality TV like Find My Family is not a panacea. It’s not a magic wand. It’s a resource like any other, and it doesn’t work for everyone. These shows don’t take on every case. They don’t always succeed. What we see is a carefully distilled montage of their best results.
I’m still pondering my original question: Is reality TV good for adoptee rights or a hindrance? Now I’m beginning to wonder if these reunion shows give people the impression that searching is easy. As in, you can have the most impossible search in the world–but along comes Find My Family or The Locator and shazam, miracles! Adoption search is not that simple, logistically or emotionally. Some people luck out and get a match right away. Some people search for decades and never succeed. There is no magic wand, just hard work, determination, the willingness to fight a system that would just as soon see us slink off with our tails between our legs… and heaping helpings of luck and prayer.
I also wonder if reality TV glosses over the fact that reunion, like marriage, is an ongoing process that involves hard work. I would feel more confidence in shows like Find My Family if they were to mention search resources like ISRR and devote some time to what happens after the honeymoon.
What do you think?

Adoptee Voices Needed, Plus More On ABC’s Find My Family

There is plenty of discussion going on in various media circles about adoptee rights, so be sure to add your two cents.
Also some good discussion going on out there about ABC’s new Find My Family show, which I mentioned in my previous entry. I still haven’t decided if it’s good PR or exploitation, but it really feels like the latter. (No, I haven’t seen it yet, not sure I want to. I like BB Church’s analogy: “reunion porn.”)
Gee, with all this media coverage you’d think it was still National Adoption Awareness Month.

ABC’s Find My Family: Is Reality TV Good For Our Rights, Or Adoption Exploitation?

Everyone in the adoption community is talking about ABC’s new show Find My Family. My question to you: Is reality TV good for adoptee and birth parent rights, or is it exploitation?
Many are wondering who is actually doing the searching for Find My Family. I may be stirring up a hornet’s nest, but here’s what little I know about it. ABC approached the moderator of a forum (of which I happen to be a member) and asked if the staff of what later became Find My Family could solicit on the forum. (Disclaimer: I am not speaking for ABC or for the forum itself. I’m simply sharing my observations.) I don’t know if any monetary compensation was offered for this, but I don’t believe so. This particular forum links volunteer (e.g. not paid) search angels with searchers. It’s a compassionate community of people who all found themselves flung into the deep end of adoption without a paddle. I expressed in private email to the moderators my reservations about this arrangement with ABC, because it seemed to me inappropriate for a reality TV show to be trolling a search-and-support forum for adoptees and birth relatives. However, the moderators and most of the other members were delighted, and they also appear to be generally pleased with the first episode of Find My Family.
My reservations remain. In my blog post “Adoption Exploitation And The Observer Effect“, I quoted my response to ABC, when they approached me directly and asked me to post an announcement on my blog soliciting adoptees and birth families for the network’s upcoming show. This was prior to their arrangement with the forum I mentioned.

Adoption is not a reality TV show. It is painfully real for those of us who experience it. I suggest you revise the show to highlight the denial of adult adoptees’ civil rights. This is a different matter than search and reunion, although the two are often conflated by the adoption industry and, in turn, the media and the public. Every day adult adoptees are denied driver’s licenses, passports, and other basics of citizenship because our original birth certificates are sealed in most states. We are forced to pay excessive fees only to find information is missing or mysteriously unavailable. Post-adoption “services” like registries and intermediaries have become yet another way for agencies and individuals to profit from adoption. That would be a far better topic upon which to shine your cameras than someone’s private reunion.

Admittedly, I haven’t watched Find My Family, so perhaps I shouldn’t remark upon it unless I do. But I didn’t like the way they came trolling a private forum looking for participants. Maybe I’m wrong, but it felt like they were letting the search angels do all the work while they make money filming the results. And believe me, these search angels work hard and don’t get paid a thin dime except maybe expenses. They’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. I don’t think reality TV, however well-meaning, can be doing anything out of sheer goodness because, at the end of the day, it’s about the advertising dollars they make. Also, it made me feel on display, a zoo animal in a cage, like I was being studied for some kind of reality-TV experiment. I’ve been exploited enough by adoption that this did not sit comfortably with me.
I also think we can draw some overall conclusions, not about this show in particular, but about reality-based adoption fodder in general. Most shows gloss over the difficulties in accessing records and focus instead on the happy-happy reunion stuff. There are those who say the happy-happy reunion stuff will help others understand our plight. I’d like to believe that, but then again I believed that a state-based confidential intermedary was in my best interests when they turned out to be incompetent money-grubbers.
From what I understand, Find My Family only accepted searches they thought would succeed. That’s similar to state-based intermediaries who only take on searches they think they can solve, because it skews their statistics to show more successful matches. In the case of a reality TV show, obviously there’s no show if the search doesn’t succeed. But what about those who don’t luck out with getting their search done by a reality TV show? How many searches don’t succeed? How many people become stuck for years if not decades? How many can’t afford the fees for state-based services, or attorneys to assert their rights, or private investigators when the state services fail? What about reunions that don’t turn out happy-happy?
More importantly, what about the civil rights of adoptees and birth mothers to access the records that pertain to them? What about the discrimination faced by adoptees and birth mothers? What about the empty promises of open adoption, disclosure vetoes and compromise legislation? What about those left behind?
Search and reunion is already far too conflated with the civil rights of records access, and I don’t think reality TV helps that. What we need are some shows that follow the demonstrations for our rights, the late nights writing letters to legislators and the media, the indignity of trying to say your piece while those same legislators are walking out on your testimony. Why weren’t the cameras on my friend Chynna when she was goose-stepped out the door by a Florida cop in attempting to obtain her driver’s license, because all she had was her amended (falsified) birth certificate? Where were the cameras when “Donna” was threatened with legal action for contacting a birth relative who wanted that contact? There’s a lot more going on in adoptionland besides happy-happy reunions. Maybe ABC’s Find My Family is going to address that. I hope somebody does.
Back to my original question: Is this good for our civil rights, or is it exploitation? I can’t decide. What do you think?

Discrimination Against Adoptees

On the heels of the recent Evan B. Donaldson study, ABC has posted an article concerning discrimination against adoptees. None of the information in the article will be news to us adoptees, who have been familiar with this for decades.
For me it started within my adoptive family. I was always the “adopted” daughter, emphasis on the adjective. In school I was mocked by classmates. On medical forms I have to write “unknown-adopted”. I have learned not to mention my adopted status, unless I want to be subjected to knowing looks or annoying personal remarks. “Didn’t your mother want you? Have you looked for your birth family? Aren’t you glad you were adopted?” There are adoptees who have been denied driver’s licenses and passports, and otherwise made to suffer indignities that no one else must endure. It’s about time somebody started taking a closer look at this.
In general I think it’s great that the EBDAI did a study of adult adoptees. However, one thing that annoyed me was that on the surface it seemed to apply only to international adoption. Domestic adoption was indeed part of the study, but the title “Beyond Culture Camp” implies otherwise. That’s not to dismiss the important conclusions reached concerning transracial adoptees, but I would have liked to have seen a more all-encompassing summary. I also agree with what others have said, that putting children on the cover of a study about ADULT adoptees perpetuates the notion that, like Peter Pan, we never grow up. That defeats the whole purpose of a study about adult adoptees. I would have preferred to see a picture of, say, adult adoptees mentoring their younger counterparts. Or heck, just adult adoptees (including some domestic ones). Otherwise, though, the conclusions were spot-on.

Promote laws, policies and practices that facilitate access to information for adopted individuals. For adopted individuals, gaining information about their origins is not just a matter of curiosity, but a matter of gaining the raw materials needed to fill in the missing pieces in their lives and derive an integrated sense of self. Both adoption professionals and the larger society need to recognize this basic human need and right, and to facilitate access to needed information for adopted individuals.

I’ve said it before in various places: When non-adopted people ask about their origins, it’s called genealogy. When adoptees ask, we are admonished. Most people don’t realize how our birth certificates are altered, nor that we must jump through expensive and unnecessary hoops and be subjected to intensely personal interrogations, just for the mere CHANCE at records access. No other segment of our society is treated in this manner. Adoptees are second-class citizens whose civil rights have long been ignored and denied. People think that if we, as adults, continue to “harp upon” our origins, there is something wrong with us. But this study clearly shows that

Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults.

I am pleased that discrimination against adoptees is finally being acknowledged, but I think it needs to go further. Every single closed-records state needs to follow the example of Maine and restore unconditional original birth certificate access to domestic adoptees. Those adopted internationally deserve to have their citizenship in their countries of origin maintained, and all documents of their origins made conveniently and inexpensively available.
Until adoptees are treated in the exact same manner as the non-adopted, we will continue to be discriminated against. Compromise legislation doesn’t cut it. Pithy promises don’t cut it. It’s not about search and reunion, it’s about civil rights. We want EQUALITY and an end to discriminatory practices and laws.

Adoption BEwareness Month Part II

It’s that time of year again, when I can’t open a paper or glance at a web site without being innundated by how WONDERFUL adoption is and isn’t it too bad we don’t have more of it.
Forget the rainbows and fluffy animals. Others have mentioned this, and I believe also, that it would be far more effective to spend November analyzing the less savory sides of adoption.
Such as honoring Strange And Mournful Day, when mothers take time to contemplate how the adoption industry robbed them of their children, their dignity, and their self-respect.
Or reviewing how supposedly respected organizations like Catholic Charities can so royally screw up their (expensive) intermediary services that purportedly “help” adoptees and birth relatives reconnect. (90% success rate?! I want to hear how many applications got dropped on the floor a la the Illinois Confidential Intermediary Service. Likewise, I bet CC is also pre screening to insure success before accepting participants–skews the figures nicely.) You’ve got to wonder what CC is trying to conceal, that they’re refusing to help straighten out this appalling situation. Don’t tell me the law doesn’t allow it, that’s a cop-out similar to “I was just following orders”.
What about donor-conceived people who have no access to their medical records? What about cases like the sperm donor who passed on a life-threatening genetic condition? Doesn’t anybody give a damn that we are creating human beings willy-nilly with no regard for their rights as human beings? I don’t mean embryos, I mean the rights of real-live people who are suffering because others want to conceal errors and misdeeds.
How about discussing the strange case of the birth mother so upset at being contacted by the child-now-adult she gave up for adoption that she feels the need to plaster her story all over the place, in some kind of insane attempt to… do what? Garner sympathy? Destroy any hope of open records? Demonstrate how ungrateful we adoptees are, especially those of us who *gasp* search? Because being adopted automatically turns us into crazy stalkers, it’s right there in the Player’s Handbook. Oh, and our heads spin 360 while we projectile vomit, too. But genealogy is A-OK if you’re, say, the First Lady, or anybody else for that matter. Now, gimme back my dice so I can keep playing the D&D version of Adoption Stereotypes. I’ve got a new character to roll:
Strength: Limitless
Intelligence: Questionable
Charisma: 18 (+30 to News Media)
Weapon: +10 Glaive Of Victimization
Armor: Shield Of Anti-Reflection
When confronted with the Stalker Adoptee, the Birth Mother Promised Confidentiality morphs into the Psycho Birth Mother. Not only has she never regretted her decision, she’s the one being victimized and wants only to maintain her privacy, which is why she touts her story to any News Media she can find. Her siren call is: “Don’t open the records! It’ll destroy women like me!” Ignoring her sister birth mothers, who may actually (horrors!) desire and seek contact with their offspring, she hides in plain sight, turning any adoptees who cross her path back into Perpetual Children. The Psycho Birth Mother refuses to look at herself in a mirror, because deep down she knows what she’s doing is wrong.
As I said on Osolomama’s blog, if women don’t want the offspring they gave up for adoption to contact them, then they ought to support open adoption records. Because as it stands in closed records states, the only way for adoptees to obtain info is to contact their birth mothers. (And no offense intended by my use of that term; I’m using it strictly for search engine purposes. As far as I’m concerned these women are mothers, no adjective.)

Personally, November is very hard for me. For one thing, it’s my daughter’s birthday. She is my eldest and the very first biological relative I ever saw in the flesh. That is so messed up I cannot even begin to tell you. So to have Adoption Awareness Month be the same as the anniversary of her arrival is really difficult. The last thing I need are painful reminders that she and my son are the only biological relatives I may ever know. I am also irate that the whole adoption thing spoils my ability to be able to enjoy her birthday. This month should be all about HER, turning six and getting pink princess presents. She shouldn’t have to have a mother who’s distracted by fighting the ghosts of adoption past, present and future. Adoption affects my kids, too, and they had nothing to do with it!
It’s also that time of thanksgiving, of being grateful… and I am damn sick of being told, as an adoptee, to be grateful. It’s a time of family and since I’ve been disowned from my adoptive family and denied existence by my birth family, that only makes it worse. I could tell you the reason I haven’t blogged much lately is because I’m busy with work and other things. It’s even true. But the other reason is that I am so effing sick of adoption at this time of year that I can’t think straight.

Thank goodness for Doctor Who or I might not make it through this year. I’m planning to enjoy the last episodes of the Tenth Doctor to the fullest, and I don’t need adoption casting a pall over my escapism, thank you very much. In fact, adoption is the reason for it.
Adoption might as well be a rusty knife in my stomach. It’s hard to tell what hurts worse, going in or coming out, but either way it’ll poison you for life.
Yeah, I need a whole month to be reminded of that.

Katherine Heigl, I’m Calling You Out On Adoption

Katherine Heigl is adopting a child because she’s “done with the whole idea of having my own children.”

“I wanted to tell everybody so you don’t think I stole a Korean baby,” she said, laughing.

She’s getting a lot of sympathy in the press for adopting a child with medical issues. Okay, I get that, nice humanitarian effort and all. BUT, baby selling is not a laughing matter. It is devastating to adoptees and birth families alike. And there is too much of a “rescuer” mentality here for my liking, as if she is trying to garner sympathy for being so big-hearted as to adopt a special-needs child. Is she going to give up her career to be available 24/7 to this child? Could she have accomplished the same thing by adopting, say, a 15 year old African-American boy, someone who is not as malleable as an infant?

I understand Heigl’s character on Gray’s Anatomy was a birth mom. I can’t speak to that because my TV watching consists almost exclusively of science fiction (why bother with mainstream stuff when I’m busy plowing through the entirety of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys? Mmm.. Kevin Sorbo…) But I can tell you about Heigl’s show from a few years back, Roswell, in which she played a half human/half alien hybrid whom–ahem!–had no access to her origins. In other words, the epitome of the sealed-records adoptee.

Let me quote some of Heigl’s dialogue from the season 2 episode, “Surprise”. In this scene Heigl’s character Isabel has returned to her place of origin, the pod chamber where she and the other three human/alien hybrids awoke. She’s just been through a really traumatic experience on her birthday, no less, and she begins a monologue to her birth mother.

Happy birthday, Isabel. I’m 18 today, Mother. October 25th, at least that’s the day we’ve always celebrated as my birthday, but you’re the only one who really knows the real day. I guess that’s why I came to the only place I’ve ever seen you. I loved that day, but you disappeared and the picture of you is already fading and it’s all I had. I was so happy because you were beautiful and warm and I even though I looked like you. But it wasn’t you, not really. I don’t know what you look like. Maybe I’ll never know. It isn’t fair, I need you! Where are you? God, it’s my birthday, we should be together! How could you leave us? How could you tell us that important information about destinies and saving the world and then just disappear… answer me!

I can’t watch that scene without crying because it pretty much sums up exactly what I’d like to ask my own mother every year on my own birthday.

I wonder if Heigl has equated this with her own adoption efforts. For her new daughter’s sake, I hope she has. To watch Roswell is to gain a greater understanding of how much it sucks sometimes to be adopted, how much it especially sucks not knowing where you are from, who your people are, and what your history is… and what lengths others are willing to go through to keep you from knowing.

Dear Abby Gives Flip Answer To Adoption Trauma

What is it with advice columnists? I realize they’re primarily for entertainment value (and yeah, I read them, which is why I came across this). But seriously, if they are going to put themselves in a position of helping people then they should, um, HELP people.

Dear Abby published the following this week in her syndicated column:

DEAR ABBY: For 15 years I was a happily married homemaker with a wonderful husband. “Duncan” and I attended church together, frolicked through the fields, even exterminated rodents together. He was my best friend. It was bliss.

Last year I found out my father had had an affair with Duncan’s mother the year I was born, which makes him my half-brother! The news was too much for my husband. He had a fatal heart attack not long after. What should I put on his gravestone: “Loving Brother” or “Loving Husband”?

Grieving in Massachusetts

DEAR GRIEVING: Neither. How about “He was ‘Everything’ to me”? That should about cover it.

Instead of giving a flip answer designed to activate the sitcom-esque laugh track, Dear Abby (penned by the original Abby’s daughter Jeanne Phillips) could have done some public good by taking the adoption industry to task for putting people in situations like this.

If we had open records–if every adoptee had the same access to their original birth certificates as the non-adopted, if birth mothers had free and clear access to all paperwork involved with their surrender–then families would be less able to lie about these things and people would not have to suffer the way this person clearly is.

Instead, our trauma is the punchline of a joke in the comics section. Add that to the list of things I wish I’d known before I was adopted.

If you want to write to Dear Abby and express your outrage:

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, a k a Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

ADDENDUM: Okay, not quite adoption related (see comments), but still begs the question: How do we make sure people know their actual origins?

More Excellent Articles About Adoption

In my previous post about excellent adoption articles, I can’t believe I forgot this one, which is the most accurate public smackdown of the adoption industry I’ve seen in a long while, if ever.

For a corollary, check out Divine Caroline:

And here’s another good article, which is about the addiction many adoption specialists and mental health practictioners have these days to so-called “attachment disorder”, which I think I’ll call DWA (“Driving While Adopted”).